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  • Rachel Gallagher

Where do Clothes Go to Die?

In the last few days my LinkedIn feed, of all places, has become obsessed with Chile’s Atacama Desert.

It’s not something you expect to see when you log in over your morning coffee.

It turns out that the Atacama Desert – formerly famous for being the driest desert in the world – is now famous for another, way more horrible reason.

The Atacama Desert is now home to a monstrous heap of our unused and abandoned clothes.

Even worse, the Atacama Desert’s gigantic clothing dump has grown so big that satellites can see it from space.

That’s right – from actual outer space – and we wonder why aliens don’t speak to us.

Take a look:

Source: Gizmodo AU

Over recent months, fashion has been bristling with discussion on how unwanted textiles are being dumped in developing countries. See the New York Post’s article on the mountains of exported clothes in landfill in Kenya and the documentary by the Changing Markets Foundation exposing the export of fast fashion’s abandoned cheap synthetic clothing (also to Kenya).

This issue seems to have suddenly reared its head from nowhere, right?


Unfortunately, this situation of palming off our unwanted clothes isn’t new at all. With a quick Google search, there are articles about fashion “dumping into the Global South” stretching back to 2021. (Just a note on the term ‘Global South’: it’s pretty much a fancy word for developing countries and you can explore the nitty gritty details of the term here.)

But apparently the situation of our exporting unwanted textiles is fresh news to people, especially those who don’t work in close proximity to the fashion industry.

As a bit of an experiment, I posted the satellite image of the (atrocious) Atacama Desert situation to my Instagram story. I wanted to see the reactions and thoughts of the non-fashion crowd to this rather scary fallout from the global fashion machine.

Now, to be fair, I have a humble following of just over 2000 people, so I’m not a mega-influencer by any means. It’s a small sample size.

Some of my followers are either working or have worked in the fashion industry, though most of them aren’t or haven’t.

Turns out, in a quick poll of my followers, that most didn’t even know about what’s going on in the Atacama Desert.

Here’s the proof:

Source: My Instagram

I don’t know about you, but I find this result completely mind-boggling. How can the world have completely missed the huge pile of clothes that can be seen from space?

But it’s not their fault; it isn’t on the radar of the everyday person because fashion doesn’t exactly advertise this. If I didn’t work in fashion, I’d wager that I wouldn’t know either.

As much as the fashion industry keeps trying to solve the issue of being one of the biggest contributors to environmental instability in the world, are we really doing enough to educate people on the environmental fall out of fashion, particularly fast fashion?

I think this small anecdote (read: my little Instagram poll) shows how far we have left to go to find some sort of resolution between fashion and the environment. Especially with shifting the mindset of people to not engage in fast fashion and educating them about where cheap synthetic clothes go to die.

Used clothes in the Atacama Desert, Alto Hospicio, Iquique, Chile. September 26th 2021. MARTIN BERNETTI / AFP / Getty Images

If we want to give people pause before they add to cart, so that mammoth fast fashion companies cease to have such a stranglehold (Shein, I’m looking at you!), we need to do more, and the information and solutions need to be accessible to the everyday person.

And you know what else I found out?

The monstrous Atacama Desert clothing gravesite had started to shrink since October 2021.

So, where have all the clothes gone?

I will leave it to your imagination. Or, alternatively, you can read this LinkedIn post for another intriguing perspective.

Rachel Gallagher is a fashion writer based in Sydney, Australia.


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